Environmentalists and green marketers are always talking about “saving the planet.” Buy this car, this laundry detergent, or this light bulb and you will help save “the planet” or “nature” or “the environment.” Jenny Price, for one, wishes they’d stop.
Price is an activist, historian, and self-appointed Los Angeles Urban Ranger. When she’s not trying to inject a little humor into the generally unfunny world of environmental preaching with her satiric blog Green Me Up, JJ, she gives tours of the concretized L.A. River. She’d be happy to tell you why she loves the river, why it is every bit a part and parcel of “Nature,” and why she thinks that places like this have got to be at the core of the environmental movement.
When it comes to rhetoric about “saving the planet,” she has two main beefs:
First, it encourages a “greener-than-thou” form of preachy consumerism that does not encourage real change nor help those most in need. Second, the rhetoric clings desperately to the historical notion that nature = pristine wilderness, obscuring the muddy, mixed up reality visible in places like her beloved L.A. River.
Twenty years ago forests were vanishing worldwide. The developing world lost 200m hectares between 1980 and 1995, and in a climate of ecological panic the Forest Stewardship Council (fsc.org) – a not-for-profit alliance between NGOs, government, and paper and timber players – originated in California.
There has been a decline in global deforestation, thanks partly to the increased use of recycled paper and the purchasing of paper products that are certified as coming from responsibly managed forests. This has been driven by consumers like you. Still, deforestation remains high.
You are trying to choose between two different systems of producing less wasteful paper. Both have merits. Recycling one tonne of paper would power a home for nine months, save 7,000 gallons of water and reducegreenhouse gas emissions by one metric tonne of carbon equivalent (CO2e). We also "get it" – put the paper in the recycling bin, close the loop by buying recycled, and hey presto: virgin trees have been saved.
But a lack of credible certification means "recycled" paper might not contain a very high a level of old paper. Check percentages: buy the highest level of "post-consumer waste paper" – aim for 100%. If the paper was recovered using energy generated from coal, it might as well not be recycled.
Meanwhile, the FSC uses a system of inspecting and tracking timber and pulp right through the chain. So far, 174m hectares of forests have met its strict criteria. Violence and the displacement of indigenous peoples are also prohibited in its chain. This is crucial: forests support 1.6 billion of the poorest people in the world.
“CSR” has already established itself as the umbrella term we use when we talk about everything from employee policies to the environment, production methods, charitable partnerships -- the list goes on. It has become a common point of reference that at least partly makes sense across sectors and countries.
It follows that “CSR” should be able to encompass the many dimensions we are actually talking about. However, “responsible business” does not, as it still does not address the potential that this responsibility holds.
My hope is that we can find a common term that also shifts the focus from CSR as being primarily “corporate philanthropy” or “CSR as risk management” to CSR as real “value creation,” where taking social responsibility has a fundamental strategic and operational impact.
That's when the company starts creating shared value between itself, its customers and society in general – and that is when we can also start to think in terms of sustainable business models and incorporate them into our business strategy.
An unprecedented study of global biological and cultural diversity paints a dire picture of the state of our species.
Like the amphibians that climb to ever tinier areas at higher altitudes to avoid being extinguished by global warming, most of the world’s species currently huddle in a tiny fraction of the Earth’s surface, and most human cultural diversity — as measured by the number of languages — occupies essentially the same tiny fraction of the planet.
People who want to enjoy an Earth-friendly vacation often seek out public transportation when they visit a city. Trains and buses can significantly lower a traveler’s carbon footprint — and so can walking. But what about bicycles? Most urban areas have some sort of bike scene, but dangerous roads and lots of car traffic (not to mention aggressive drivers) can make it hazardous to undertake a pedal-powered sightseeing tour.
But cycling in a few select metropolises is safe and easy because of infrastructure that include bike lanes, dedicated cycle paths, and drivers who are generally more willing to share the road with two-wheelers. If you want a bicycle to be a part of your next vacation, these pedal-friendly cities should be near the top of your list. (
An Abbott government would risk Australia’s international reputation and undermine its economic interests if it scrapped the carbon tax, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet told a joint climate forum with China. Mr Combet told the forum in Sydney, which included Chinese National Development and Reform Commission vice-president Xie Zhenhua, that by scrapping the tax it would sever Australia’s links with global moves to put a price on emissions.
He said having a carbon price and policies to support it would enable Australia to fully participate in climate change negotiations set for 2015.
"For our international reputation that is crucial," he said.
Last Saturday night between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. local time — at this time of year, an hour of darkness in most places — hundreds of millions people switched off non-essential electric lights for Earth Hour.
Initiated by the WWF, the annual event is aimed at raising awareness of the planet and climate change.
The usual approach to building in a flood zone is to put everything on stilts, as many residents of Rockaway, Queens, are considering in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. That’s also been the approach in the slum settlement of Makoko in Lagos, Nigeria, where many residents live in illegal wood shanties propped up on stilts, accessible only by canoe. Recently the slum and its population of roughly 250,000 Nigerians have been a target of a government that sees the settlement as an eyesore and an impediment to Lagos’s metamorphosis into a modern megacity of 40 million. Last summer the government went on an anti-slum campaign, sending out forces to cut the houses’ stilts with machetes.
But the Nigerian-born, Netherlands-based architect Kunlé Adeyemi sees potential in the lagoon as a future site of a sustainable floating community. For his opening gambit, Adeyemi and his firm, NLÉ, are putting the finishing touches on a three-story, 2,300-square-foot floating school for 100 students between the ages of 4 and 12. Constructed from locally sourced wood and a base of 256 used plastic drums, the new school features enclosed classrooms on the second level and an open-air classroom on the third floor, all anchored by a waterside playground and green space. The Makoko school, which held a preview celebration earlier this month, completes the first phase of NLÉ’s plan to erect a livable city on the lagoon.
Global food prices continued to decline for six consecutive months, but still remain very high and close to their historical peaks. The persistently high and volatile food prices not only influence conditions of hunger and undernutrition, but also obesity which may increase in the context of high prices as people opt for cheaper, less nutritious food to feed their families, the World Bank Group’s quarterly Food Price Watch report said.
“Unhealthy food tends to be cheaper than healthy ones, like junk food in developed countries. When poor people with some disposable income in developing countries try to cope with high and increasingly volatile food prices, they also tend to choose cheap food that is high in calories but without much nutritious value,” said Otaviano Canuto, World Bank Group’s Vice President for Poverty Reduction and Economic Management. “Half of the world's overweight people live in just nine countries -- China, United States, Germany, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, and Turkey -- evidence that obesity is not an epidemic restricted only to rich countries.”
H&M for the first time has made its supplier factory list public alongside its annual sustainability report, released last week.
The fashion apparel company says publishing the list is an effort to build a more transparent, sustainable fashion industry and covers 95 percent of its total production volume. H&M offered incentives programs and formed strategic bonds with suppliers to encourage them to voluntarily open up. The suppliers hail from several dozen countries in Europe and Asia, including Bulgaria, Greece, Ukraine, Turkey, China, India and Sri Lanka, among others.
The report also highlights H&M’s clothing collection initiative, which gives customers the opportunity to return old clothes from any brand and in any condition in exchange for a discount voucher. The company says it hopes to one day close the textile loop and make clothes out of the recycled garments.
H&M is the biggest user of certified organic cotton in the world for the second year running, according to the report. The company is a member of the Better Cotton Initiative and currently acquires more than 11 percent of its cotton supply from organic and recycled sources.
Other achievements include raising support for higher wages and yearly wage reviews for garment workers in Bangladesh and launching a global water stewardship program with WWF. The company also reported 74 percent of its managers and half its board members are women.
On the energy front, the company says it has reduced the electricity intensity of its stores by 15 percent since 2007 and is on track to meeting its 20 percent reduction goal by 2020.
“We are proud of the achievements we have made during the year,” said H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson. “We are transparent about the progress we make and the report is an important part of that. Our customers should feel confident that everything they buy from H&M is designed, manufactured and handled with responsibility for people and the environment.”
Largely unnoticed in the West, Asia’s energy revolution is gathering speed. It’s driven by the same economic and strategic logic that Reinventing Fire showed could profitably shift the United States from fossil-fuel-based and nuclear energy to three-times-more-efficient use and three-fourths renewables by 2050.
Renewable energy now provides one-fifth of the world’s electricity and has added about half of the world’s new generating capacity each year since 2008. Excluding big hydro dams, renewables got $250 billion in private investment in 2011 alone, adding 84 GW, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance and ren21.net. The results were similar in 2012.
While RMI explores how key partners could apply our U.S. synthesis to other countries, including China, revolutionary shifts—strikingly parallel to our approach—are already emerging in the three biggest Asian economies: Japan, China, and India. They add strong reasons to expect the already-underway renewable revolution to scale even further and faster.
It’s being billed as a triumph for solar power, but the Solar Impulse solar-powered airplane could also be seen as an illustration of just how amazing liquid fuels like jet fuel are, and how far solar power and battery technology would need to go to challenge them. A far better idea than solar-powered flight is nuclear-powered flight, although I don’t mean putting nuclear reactors on airplanes as the U.S. government once proposed (see these two pdfs). Let’s use fission to make low-carbon fuel.
The Solar Impulse plane, powered by a combination of crystalline silicon solar panels and lithium ion batteries, made news last year when it made the world’s first solar-powered intercontinental flight. And it’s scheduled to fly across the United States this summer. But the continents it travelled between—the plane flew from Spain to Morocco–nearly touch. And the plane will make the trip across the U.S. in five legs. The plane carries only one person, yet its wingspan is equal to that of a jumbo jet, which provides the needed lift and the area for the solar panels.
There are some things solar panels are good for, but they’re not good for passenger aircraft. The energy in sunlight is too diffuse. A square-meter solar panel generates less than 200 watts in full sunshine. In comparison, a small, half-meter-wide, gasoline-powered generator can generate 3,500 watts. It can run for 24 hours–at half power–on less than 12 gallons of fuel. The solar panel, of course, stops working at night. If it can generate some extra power during the day, that could be stored in batteries. But batteries store only about 1/100th as much energy as gasoline. (Incidentally, one of the attractions of nuclear power is that you can get about a million times more energy out of uranium in a power plant than you can get out of diesel in an engine.)
On August 8th, 1975, Science published a paper by AAAS fellow Wallace S. Broecker titled “Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” in which he argued that the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide occurring because of the burning of fossil fuels would result in higher global temperatures. We recently interviewed Broecker, the Newberry Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, about how warming has progressed since his ground-breaking paper, and what can or should be done about it.
They said it couldn’t be done. They tried to tell us that renewable energy could only survive if it were propped up with government subsidies. Never mind that our whole system of economic development, beginning with the patent office, is predicated on the idea that fledgling, underfunded industries need special protection for a limited time until they are strong enough to go it alone. Never mind that the fossil fuel industry, which can hardly be considered fledgling or underfunded, is still receiving billions in taxpayer subsidies. But like the little engine that could, or the middle aged rock star that, after twenty years of struggling in sleazy dives has suddenly become an overnight sensation, solar power, having now surpassed the 100 GW threshold, has finally arrived and is good to go, in many places, without subsidies.
A new report [PDF] from the International Monetary Fund tries to tally up fossil fuel subsidies around the world and finds that they add up to an eye-popping $1.9 trillion a year. That’s 2.5 percent of global GDP!
Brad Plumer has a typically lucid summary on the report’s conclusions, but I want to dig in a little on one part, because believe it or not, the IMF’s conclusion may be too conservative. The real truth about global fossil fuel subsidies may be more eye-popping yet.
So, where does that $1.9 trillion come from? Around $480 billion of it comes from direct subsidies, i.e., government handing out money. This is what people usually think of when they hear “subsidies.” Contrary to popular opinion, the developed world does very little of this kind of thing. Direct fossil fuel subsidies (“pre-tax” subsidies) are overwhelmingly concentrated in the developing world and mostly devoted to making petro-products affordable for poor people:
So what would happen if the world population – including in the United States – just kept growing to feed the Ponzi scheme? It’s simply not sustainable. The costs to both people and our planet would far outweigh the benefits. Here are some facts Last and his friends simply can’t hide under their pro-growth rug:
Water Resources are Already Stressed: According to the World Health Organization, one in three people around the globe is already being affected by water scarcity, and that number will only grow along with our global population. Even here in the United States, a number of Western states that rely on Colorado River water are watching their supply shrink thanks to population growth and drought. Climate change is expected to make things worse.
Feeding Everyone Will be a Huge Undertaking: Worldwide, the United Nations estimates that we must raise food production 70 percent to feed 9.3 billion people in 2050. Adding to the challenge: The best cropland is already in production. The “Green Revolution” has slowed down. Returns on using more fertilizer have been diminishing and are subject to rising oil prices. And plants can’t grow without water, of course.
We’re Losing Wildlife Habitat: Population growth doesn’t just affect humans. Wild plants and creatures are harmed when land they inhabit is plowed under to grow food, extract minerals and build more roads and houses. In fact, 1,500 plant and animal species are endangered or threatened in the United States alone. Globally, some of the most biodiverse areas are also experiencing the most rapid population growth. We may lose species forever even before they’ve been formally discovered.
Growing Population Means People Suffer, Too: And rapidly growing populations don’t just hurt plants and animals. They hurt people, too. Most of the places around the world with the highest birthrates – Afghanistan, Niger, Yemen, Uganda – also have very high levels of maternal and child mortality and low levels of women’s education. In general, they are extremely poor, and they are plagued by violence. Women’s lives have improved as the birth rate has gone down. Is it really necessary to reverse that trend?
So while feeding the Ponzi demographic scheme might pay off for Pampers shareholders, in the long run, population growth is good for no one. Not even Jonathan Last. Though I doubt we’ll ever convince him of that. But we’ll certainly keep trying!
An index produced by the Australian thinktank the Climate Institute and GE also shows that the US is falling behind China when it comes to low-carbon competitiveness.
Having leapt four places, China is now ranked third in the list of G20 economies that the study claims is best able to compete in a world that restricts greenhouse gas emissions.
The Climate Institute/GE Low-Carbon Competitiveness Index says that China’s improvement is largely down to its large-scale investment in clean energy and a rise in high-tech exports.
The ranking systems uses research from Vivid Economics and measures 20 indicators, such as per capita energy consumption, trade emissions intensity, growth in emissions and investment in clean energy.
France tops the index, followed by Japan, China, South Korea and the UK. The US – placed in eighth when the index was first published four years ago – now sits in the No. 11 spot, representing the most significant drop among countries in this year’s index update.
You have to think about the whole life cycle of the product. The amount of materials that go into building a cell phone, a computer or a tablet is really astounding. They require huge amounts of metals, so you have all the mining issues. Everything from the conflict minerals in Congo, to gold mining — which is terribly destructive for the environment — to copper, to some of the very exotic rare earth metals. These are extremely hazardous to both human health and the environment.
Beyond the raw materials, the production of components involves a huge number of chemicals — very exotic chemicals. There’s unfortunately a pretty serious track record of the people making those components getting very sick. There are cancer clusters in several parts of the world where electronics are made. Right now the most well defined one is in Korea. Over 100 young workers have gotten cancer after working in the factories making various Samsung products.
You also have huge amounts of e-waste, containing hazardous chemicals and metals. People around the world are getting sick taking apart these products to scavenge the resources. Throughout the lifecycle, there are millions of people being exposed to these hazards. Unfortunately the problem continues to grow because so little attention is being paid to it.
University of Georgia researchers have found a way to turn carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into industrial products by modifying a microorganism, Pyrococcus furiosus, that normally resides in ocean waters near super-hot geothermal vents. The modifications resulted in an organism that is able to transform carbon dioxide into 3-hydroxypropionic acid, a common industrial chemical. The researchers believe that additional modifications could result in variations of carbon-dioxide-consuming P. furiosus that can create other products, including fuel. A paper describing the process was published online earlier this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The creation of biofuels from biomass crops involves extracting sugars produced via photosynthesis, a process that is difficult to achieve in an efficient manner. The use of microorganisms genetically modified to convert carbon dioxide would take the plants out of the equation, says biotechnology professor and paper co-author Michael Adams. Additionally, the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air when such fuel is burned would equal the amount used to make it, resulting in a cheap, carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels. Adams says the next step is to "refine the process and begin testing it on larger scales."
When you think of nature as it applies to building design, operation and maintenance, you probably think about the garden atrium in the building, the staged greenery throughout the lobbies or perhaps the views to common areas planted in greenery. However, there is a new “nature” within a building. It is a concept termed biomimicry, which literally means to mimic life.
In 1997 biologist and science writer Janine Benyus coined the term when she wrote the book Biomimicry—Innovation Inspired by Nature. Biomimicry has since become a design discipline that investigates how the natural environment operates, and more specifically, how living organisms create and solve design challenges. Design solutions adapted through the use of biomimicry are intended to foster a more sustainable human experience and existence. Major architectural design firms, in building and city design, are actively using this new discipline.
Through a process of reconnecting with nature and researching living organisms, the design teams, together with biologists, are looking at how natural systems operate and are “asking nature” as a means to inform their building design. How do living organisms capture, store and process water, sunlight and waste? How does nature cool, shade and recycle nutrients? In addition to some of the more basic building functions, other designers are looking at 3D printing and nanotechnology as a means to advance building material design and construction. The observations of lessons in nature are having a profound impact and are challenging the way things have been done since the industrial revolution.
Diarrhoea, which kills 1.5 million children annually, is likely to become more prevalent in many developing countries as the climate changes, a report says. But the authors found an unexpected twist in the way the climate is likely to affect the disease.
Kathleen Alexander, an associate professor of wildlife at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment, says climate drives a large part of diarrhoea and related disease, increasing the threat which a changing climate poses to vulnerable communities.
The analysis of 30 years of data by her team found an unexpected peak of diarrhea during the hottest and driest part of the year, when there were most flies.
Her study, “Climate change Is likely to worsen the public health threat of diarrheal disease in Botswana”, is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. It is based on three decades of historical data and has implications for arid countries worldwide.
World Health Organisation experts will help set Hong Kong’s air quality objectives, according to a schedule to be released by the Environment Bureau today, a source close to the government says.
The 40-page road map for Clean Air for Hong Kong will outline the targets and timetables for improving air quality.
The document, to be launched by Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing, will cover at least the next seven years and is expected to be the most comprehensive air quality blueprint for Hong Kong yet.
The plan will include government measures to curb emissions at local sources, from roads to marine transport and power generation. It will also highlight the need for co-operation with Guangdong in addressing regional smog caused by ground-level ozone pollution.
If we want a more sustainable world, achieved through and driven by popularised digital technologies, we need to reframe the conversation and make it less about depriving ourselves of the things we like. This was the argument posed by members of a panel at sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future's "Is your business wired for change conference", held in conjunction with design consultancy firm Fjord.
Changing the conversation is key, but it's part of a bigger nut we've not yet cracked -- the human element that will turn big ideas into uptake and real change.
"It has to be a better world, but everything [around sustainability] is about depriving yourself," said Carmel McQuaid, climate change manager for Marks & Spencer. "Less fun, less status, less success, that's the message. Less citizens liking you and voting for you because you're asking them to pay [sustainability-linked] taxes."
Until sustainability experts stop being "preachy" and focus on the human element that will ultimately define a particular initiative's success of failure, we won't get anywhere near that better world. Technology is not the solution, McQuaid argued, it's how that technology is positioned in a very human and approachable way that will generate change.
"As a retailer we learn by doing. Where we've always failed is thinking technology is the solution. We forget we need other elements -- marketers, psychologist and techie geeks in a room with sustainability people. And none of them get on; they're from different worlds. Marketers dream a better world and hackathons create [the things we need] -- we need different skill sets to work to a solution."
Highlighting her point about the human element, McQuaid pointed to the car-sharing schemes that have been around for years but fail to deliver real results. "I'm still standing in the taxi queue every day," she quickly added that she normally cycles (she's hurt her wrist), "and still nobody is asking each other [where they're going]; the station master isn't involved. We haven't cracked the human things that will make this all happen."
"People spend time on the internet looking at fluffy cats and jokes because they're human -- as long as we don't stop being preachy, we'll really struggle to connect with that."
Surely, with the advent of services like Hailo we can make car sharing a practical reality, argued Andy Hobsbawm, cofounder and CMO of EVRYTHING, an internet of things startup that used barcodes, RFID chips and QR codes to create a social network for everyday objects. Hobsbawm -- also the founder of Green Thing, a non-profit that encourages the public to make simple changes to their daily lives -- admitted that he still fluctuates between hope and despair over the state of the sustainability movement.
"I don't know why more hasn't happened," he said. "The reframing of it is a complex issue -- it is about saying it's better, but also about reframing what better means, because it can be about society and happiness and a smarter way to be. It's like when you feel there's a better party going on somewhere else -- how do we make it that. If you start talking to them in terms that trigger normal consumerism, that will instantly link with an association of how things are not how you want them to be. It's not an easy problem to solve -- it needs to be more systemic."
One audience member working in sustainability at the BBC added that since "we haven't really defined sustaining living -- how do we say this is what we have to do to be sustainable, as opposed to bit more sustainable."
McQuaid suggested getting the rhetoric wrong is also what holds up sustainability drives in big businesses: "if you keep talking sustainability rather than product quality or supply chain, those departments won't understand. You need to approach from a product quality or supply chain point of view -- then they get it."
Olive Ventures's insight:
scooped more than half the article because this is a really important discussion.
Sharing your scoops to your social media accounts is a must to distribute your curated content. Not only will it drive traffic and leads through your content, but it will help show your expertise with your followers.
How to integrate my topics' content to my website?
Integrating your curated content to your website or blog will allow you to increase your website visitors’ engagement, boost SEO and acquire new visitors. By redirecting your social media traffic to your website, Scoop.it will also help you generate more qualified traffic and leads from your curation work.
Distributing your curated content through a newsletter is a great way to nurture and engage your email subscribers will developing your traffic and visibility.
Creating engaging newsletters with your curated content is really easy.